How the Night Shift Might Affect Your Health

Shift work tied to insomnia and being overweight

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Pulling the night shift at work may put a few extra bucks in your pocket, but could it also be harmful to your health? New evidence suggests it could be.

A new study found a connection between "shift working" — working nontraditional shifts like night or rotating shifts — and being overweight and having sleep problems like insomnia.

"We have known for some time that shiftworkers have more health problems," explained Robert S. Rosenberg, DO, FCCP, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, AZ, in an interview with dailyRx News. "This includes an increased incidence of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as cancer."

The authors of this new study, led by Marjory L. Givens, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, aimed to look at the link between shift work, type 2 diabetes and being overweight.

To do so, Dr. Givens and team analyzed data from the 2008 to 2012 Survey of the Health of Wisconsin. This involved 1,593 employed adults who provided data on their work schedules and sleep habits.

Those who worked nontraditional hours appeared to be worse off on a number of health measures, Dr. Givens and team found.

More shift workers (83 percent) were overweight than those on a traditional work schedule (71 percent). Over half of shift workers (53 percent) reported getting insufficient sleep — less than seven hours a day — as compared to 42.9 percent of workers on a traditional schedule.

And while only 16.3 percent of traditional schedule workers reported symptoms of insomnia, the same was true for 23.6 percent of shift workers.

Dr. Givens and team did not find a significant link between diabetes and shift work in this study. They did, however, find a stronger tie between the two factors among shift workers who also reported insufficient sleep.

This study only found a link between shift work and health troubles — not necessarily that one causes the other. But Dr. Rosenberg shed some light on why these factors might be related.

"We believe this stems from the fact that the circadian misalignment between the internal biological clock and shiftwork never corrects for some people," Dr. Rosenberg said. "As a result, chronically poor quality and quantity of sleep continues with the adverse health consequences that one would expect."

Dr. Givens and team offered some suggestions on how to address health problems among shift workers.

"The findings of this study, in combination with a growing body of evidence, can inform workplace wellness initiatives that aim to mitigate the effects of shiftwork on cardiometabolic health and reduce health disparities in the workforce," Dr. Givens and team wrote.

This study was published May 18 in the journal Sleep Health.

A number of groups funded this research, such as the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the UW Wisconsin Partnership. Dr. Givens and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.


Review Date: 
May 14, 2015
Last Updated:
May 20, 2015